Encountering Peace: From David to Goliath

Palestinians are fighting for exactly what we Jews fought for – freedom, independence, identity.

kerry and abbas 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
kerry and abbas 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This is what I know: Over the past three years I personally transmitted messages from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offering to convene a secret back channel of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Netanyahu refused every proposal. The proposals were made by Abbas repeatedly over the past three years.
In July 2013 when US Secretary of State John Kerry was beginning his initiative, Abbas and then Netanyahu stipulated that any direct contact between them had to be approved by Kerry. I informed one of Kerry’s advisers of the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders and Kerry vetoed the idea of direct meetings between them without American control and involvement. Kerry was afraid that if the meeting failed, his initiative would be dead before it even started.
I tried to convince both sides to agree to hold the meeting in secret without informing the Americans because I believe that when the Americans are in the room, the Israelis speaks to the Americans, the Palestinians speaks to the Americans, and the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t speak to each other. My last attempts to create a direct secret back-channel between the two leaders were in the second week of April 2014 until the final days of the month and the crash of the process. Once again, as in all of the past three years, Abbas was prepared to meet Netanyahu any place, any time but, as in the past, Netanyahu refused.
In February 2014 the One Voice Movement and the Israeli- Arab peace caucus of the Knesset brought 300 Israeli university students for a two-hour meeting with Abbas in Ramallah. The meeting was a great success. I immediately thought that there should be a reciprocal meeting in Jerusalem with Palestinian students and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
First I checked with Abbas and the PLO committee for engagement with the Israeli society. Committee head Mohammed Madani assured me that they would be able to organize 300 Palestinian students who would be willing to come to hear Netanyahu in Jerusalem and to speak peace with him.
I transmitted the initiative to Netanyahu’s office and to several ministers in his government and MKs from the Likud. A senior official in one of the Likud-held ministries advised Netanyahu’s office to accept the initiative. But, as in the past, Netanyahu refused.
In nine months of negotiations Abbas presented significant compromises, Netanyahu presented nothing. Abbas agreed that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized.
He agreed that IDF troops could stay in the Jordan Valley for five years and then be replaced by NATO troops. He agreed that Israel would annex the main settlement blocs leaving about 80 percent of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty in exchange for equal land swaps adjacent to the Green Line. Abbas agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem (which the Palestinians consider settlements) would remain under Jewish sovereignty, including the Jewish quarter of the Old City and the Kotel as well.
In nine months of negotiations what did Netanyahu offer? Nothing! There was not one Israeli proposal. Not one Israeli initiative was put on the table. The only thing Israel offered was what it was not willing to accept.
The bottom line is that the Palestinians have no Israeli partner for peace as long as Netanyahu is prime minister. A prime minister sincerely interested in peace would go to the end of earth to meet with his adversary on the other side of the table. Netanyahu has refused to talk to Abbas.
A prime minister sincerely interested in peace would put down on the table an Israeli peace initiative. A prime minister sincerely interested in peace would direct his ministers to reach out to the other side to build bridges of cooperation and understanding. Netanyahu prevented his cabinet members from talking to their counterparts on the Palestinian side, with the exception of the finance minister. A prime minister sincerely interested in peace would have agreed to freeze settlement building during negotiations until an agreed-upon border is reached.
Netanyahu provoked the Palestinian side every way possible by continuing to build more and more and to announce new settlement initiatives instead of peace initiatives.
No, Netanyahu is no partner for peace. Netanyahu is not interested in any kind of peace that anyone in the Arab world could agree to. Despite Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda, Abbas has kept to his obligation to cooperate with Israeli security forces in combating terrorism – even Yoram Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency), says so. Benny Gantz, the IDF chief of staff, believes that the Palestinians have continued to cooperate on the security issues. Abbas begged Netanyahu to have the IDF and the ISA cease their incursions into Palestinian-controlled Area A and allow the Palestinian security forces to apprehend suspects. Netanyahu refused and each time there was an incursion – almost every week, the Palestinian security forces are made to look like collaborating stooges. All too often riots break out during these incursions and Palestinians get killed. Yet the security cooperation continues.
No, Netanyahu is not a man of peace. He is not a leader who will bring Israel peace with its neighbors. Netanyahu has no vision of peace. He has no plans for peace. His only plan is to stay in power by inventing threats and creating an environment of fear. He has continued to foster the myth and the lie that the Palestinian leader is not a partner for peace when it is in fact he who is not a man of peace.
Netanyahu together with his extreme right-wing partners Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman is leading Israel into solidifying a binational reality and ending the Zionist dream. They claim that Israel does not rule over the Palestinians.
They claim that the PA is in charge of the Palestinians and not Israel. This is a lie. The PA is occupied by Israel.
The PA can do nothing without Israel’s approval. Every birth, every death, every ID card, every Palestinian passport can only be issued with Israeli approval. No Palestinian can move anywhere without Israeli approval. President Abbas cannot move out of Ramallah without Israel approval.
Palestine is a state, whether Israel likes it or not. Palestinian is recognized by 133 countries around the world. Palestine is a state occupied by Israel. But Israel can no longer morally justify the occupation of the State of Palestine.
Palestinians are fighting for exactly what we Jews fought for – freedom, independence, identity. They have a moral and just cause and Israel’s prevention of Palestinian freedom, independence and identity is immoral and unjust.
Netanyahu is leading Israel to become the democratic world’s pariah state. Netanyahu is dangerous for Israel and for the Jewish people. Israel has lost its higher moral ground. Israel is no longer David facing Goliath. We have become Goliath ourselves. Israel could easily be the best country in the world to live in, the most moral country, and the most exciting country in the world. Israel has so many achievements to be proud of. Netanyahu is leading Israel into a position of shame. It is time for Netanyahu to go.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan.